Joint forces combine for a Large Force Exercise

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Jets could be heard roaring off the runway here and into the Italian sky as pilots from Aviano and Grossetto Air Bases participated in Operation Longshank, a large force exercise (LFE) Dec. 14.

Today's military pilots have to be trained to handle any type of combat scenario and exercises like these help hone each pilot's skills.

"An LFE allows us to essentially replicate a combat mission - as if we were going to war tomorrow against a significant threat," said Air Force Capt. Jesse Proctor, 555th Fighter Squadron pilot.

Typically, fighter pilots train in a 4-ship [four aircraft], he said. Operation Longshank brought together 24 aircraft to accomplish one mission - destroy the enemy targets.

"One of the main goals in these exercises is to challenge each pilot's ability to deal with a very intense scenario and succeed based on habit patterns and skill sets they train to everyday," Proctor continued.

In large force exercises, pilots are divided into two teams: Red-air and blue-air forces.

The blue forces consisted of 20 F-16 pilots from the 555th FS and the 510th FS. The red forces were incorporated into the exercise from Grossetto Air Base and initially included four Typhoon Eurofighters, but only two were actually able to participate.

"Since two of the typhoon jets couldn't fly, we had two of our F-16s join the red-air forces," said Proctor. "Once airborne, the jets re-fueled from a KC-135 tanker and began their combat training mission."

The blue forces objectives for the LFE included killing all red-air fighters and hitting 90 percent of the assigned targets.

"The blue air killed all of the red air jets but lost three blue fighters in the mix, and they were able to hit about 75 percent of the targets," Proctor said. "It was great training for the new pilots, and even the experienced pilots, to be part of an exercise like this."

Training with joint forces also helps pilots learn different tactics from other foreign pilots.

"By fighting directly against the Typhoons, we get to actually see first hand what their capabilities are," added Proctor. "But it's not only that, exercises like these give our younger guys an opportunity to deal with things that they've never encountered before such as language barriers and non-Air Force F-16 tactics."

While large force exercises are designed to get pilots in the sky and eliminate the enemy, they aren't the only ones who benefit from these exercises.

"This is valuable training for us, that allows our operators to practice skills that we don't get to use very often in the deployed environment," said Air Force Capt. Michael Lake, 603rd Air Control Squadron (ACS) chief of weapons and tactics.

The mission of the 603rd ACS is to operate a mobile unit capable of providing radar control and surveillance within a designated area. They also provide radar control for friendly aircraft in an offensive role against ground targets, and in a defensive mission against airborne threats.

"The controllers made me truly appreciate how tough their job is," said Proctor. "The air battle managers typically control and broadcast fights that involve 6-8 jets on a daily basis. Controlling 24 jets not only makes it tough to broadcast and control the fight, but also tough to do it with limited technology."

For Capt. Lake, this kind of exercise is what he believes brings the wing towards a common goal.

"The training is excellent, since we get to mission plan, brief and debrief with the pilots in person," he said. "We're all part of the same wing, whether we're in operations or maintenance, and we're working toward the same goal - to win in the air."

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